Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
The picture above is of the hand written letter sent to the wife of Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, a member of the January 6th Commission who voted for the impeachment charges against former President Trump during his second impeachment trial. The language is that of violence, and the direct threat to the life of Congressman Kinzinger, and to the lives of his wife and 5 month old son. Also note the explicitly of the threats to their lives, and the even more explicit damnation of them to Hell. These are the words of a fanatical Christian Nationalist, whose perverted understanding of the Christian faith has entered the mainstream of the Trumpified conservative Evangelical, Charismatic, and Fundamentalist movements and churches in the United States. It is not representative of the Gospel, but it reflects how Christians in this country and others have used twisted understandings of the Bible to persecute and often execute in made up drumhead ecclesiastical trials backed by the power of the state, and when that was not possible used mob violence, often on a large scale.
I am no stranger to death threats, threats of violence and online harassment, mostly from people who claim to be Christians. I see it several times a week when a friend who is the head of a major civil and religious rights organization asks me to respond to violent threats to him, his family, and his organization. He is Jewish and almost every one of these threats come from people who identify themselves as Christians. The blood curdling violence and specificity of these emails is frightening, very much in line with the threats directed at Congressman Kinzinger and others on the committee, or who in State or Federal offices resisted the attempts of Trump and his cohorts to conduct what would result in a violent coup attempt on 6 January, 2021.
The fact is that MAGA Christian Nationalists are deeply embedded in violent and heavily armed domestic terrorist organizations like the Proud Boys, the Patriot Prayer group, the, and the III Percent organizations, just to name a few of the most prominent. This is not new. Christians, including pastors were heavily involved with the Ku Klux Klan, the White Leagues, and the Red Shirts which terrorized Blacks and their White supporters in the Reconstruction and Post Reconstruction South. Such massacres included the Memphis Tennessee Massacre of 1866, the New Orleans Massacre of 1866, the Camilla, Georgia, Massacre of 1868, the Opelousas and St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana Massacres of 1868, the Jackson County, Florida Wars of 1869-1871 (an insurgency against Blacks and Republicans which killed hundreds of Black and White Republicans resulting in the return to White rule.)
But this was not all, the violence continued, all resulting in tens to hundreds of Blacks and Republican office holders throughout the South. They included the Meridian, Mississippi Race Riots of 1871, Colfax Massacre of 1873, the Coushatta Massacre and the Battle of Liberty Place in 1874, all in Louisiana, the Eufaula, Alabama Election Riots of 1874, the Vicksburg, Mississippi Massacre of 1874, the Clinton, Mississippi Massacre of 1875, Hamburg and Ellenton Massacres of 1876 in South Carolina, and the Wilmington, North Carolina, Massacre of 1898.
Such attacks continued in the South and the North in the 20th Century. There were many, some small, others large but some of the more onerous included the Springfield, Illinois Massacre of 1908, Slocum, Texas Massacre of 1910, the Elaine, Arkansas Massacre of 1919, the Ocoee, Florida Massacre of 1920, the Tulsa (Black Wall Street Massacre) of 1921, which included the use of aircraft to bomb Black residents, the Rosewood, Florida Massacre of 1923, Axe Handle Sunday in Jacksonville, Florida in 1961, and the Orangeburg, South Carolina Massacre of 1968.
Likewise there were thousands and according to some accounts tens of thousands of Lynchings.
I mention these specifically American massacres in which Christians often led and supported to show how deep the politics religion, and often race and ideology influence violent acts, including the threatening letter to Congressman Kinzinger is just the latest example.
The reality is that many of the leaders and supporters, including Republican Senators and Congressmen, of the January 6th attack were or are Christian Nationalists. The Baptist Joint Commission published a report on Christian Nationalism and the January 6th attempted coup. The link to it is here: https://bjconline.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Christian_Nationalism_and_the_Jan6_Insurrection-2-9-22.pdf
One of the most important sections of that document is its description of what Christian Nationalism is and what it is not:
Christian nationalism is a political ideology and cultural framework that seeks to merge American and Christian identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy. Christian nationalism relies on the mythological founding of the United States as
a “Christian nation,” singled out for God’s providence in order to fulfill God’s purposes on earth. Christian nationalism demands a privileged place for Christianity in public life, buttressed by the active support of government at all levels.
Christian nationalism is not Christianity, though it is not accurate to say that Christian nationalism has nothing to do with Christianity.
The report is important and I will quote a couple more passages from it before moving on.
Christian nationalism and Christianity are not one and the same. It is the cultural influence of white Christian nationalism inclining many Christian and religious Americans toward beliefs and behaviors that harm minorities, democracy, and broader measures of social safety. Those Christian Americans who reject white Christian nationalism and are actively involved in their faith communities are generally more likely to advocate for a civil arena that protects and defends the rights of all people and groups.
It goes on:
Because Christian nationalism is identified (or, more accurately, because it identifies itself) with a religion, the movement is often understood as a set of religious and/or theological positions that are then assumed to lead in a deductive way to a certain set of cultural and policy preferences, and from there to a certain kind of politics. But Christian nationalism is, first and foremost,
a political movement. Its principal goal, and the goal of its most active leaders, is power. Its leadership looks forward to the day when they can rely on government for three things: power and influence for themselves and their political allies; a steady stream of taxpayer funding for their initiatives; and policies that favor “approved” religious and political viewpoints…
When Mr. Trump launched the effort to overturn the election by promoting the lie that it was stolen, consider where some of the most militant and coordinated support came from. The Conservative Action Project, a group associated with the Council for National Policy, which serves as a key networking organization for America’s religious and economic right-wing elite, made its
position clear in a statement issued a week before the insurrection.
It called for members of the U.S. Senate to “contest the electoral votes” from Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and other states that were the focus of Republicans’ baseless allegations. Cosignatories included nearly two dozen powerful movement figures including Bob McEwen, a leader of the Council for National Policy; Morton C. Blackwell of the Leadership Institute; Alfred S. Regnery, the former publisher; Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council; the conservative lawyer and activist Cleta Mitchell, who was on the phone with
Mr. Trump when he urged Georgia’s secretary of state to “find” extra votes; and Thomas Fitton of Judicial Watch.
Even as Republican figures like former President George W. Bush and Senator Mitt Romney attempted to nudge Mr. Trump toward a graceful concession, many religious right leaders doubled down on conspiracy or denial or provided indirect support for election lies by articulating “concerns” about supposed “constitutional irregularities” in battleground states. Today, many of the movement’s most influential organizations have embraced the cause of “election integrity” as a fairly transparent means of undercutting faith in elections as a cornerstone of our democracy.
A key to the movement’s durability is its influence on elected political leaders (and their appointees). Its influence on these leaders depends in large part on its ability to deliver large numbers of votes in a consistent way. And its ability to deliver these votes rests on at least three important mechanisms:
The first is that Christian nationalism serves as an effective tool for controlling information flows to a significant part of the population. It is a way of creating a population that will be receptive to certain forms of disinformation and immune to other types of information, which the present leadership often denigrates as “fake news” or “the lying media.” This gives the leadership cadre, and their political allies, a tremendous degree of power.
A second mechanism for mobilizing mass political power involves manufacturing and focusing a sense of persecution and resentment among the rank and file. To be clear, the movement draws on a wide range of pre- existing anxieties and concerns. But its real contribution consists in identifying and promoting grievance and then aiming it at political opponents.
And finally, the movement offers its supporters a means of reconciling two seemingly contradictory notions: that our nation is the greatest nation on earth precisely because
it is a Christian nation; and at the same time that our nation is overrun with alien and evil forces. On the one hand, Christian nationalists are America, at least in their own minds. On the other hand, movement supporters are persuaded that America is in the grip of malevolent forces, which they variously identify as “secularists,” “the homosexual agenda,” “the communist threat,” and even “demonic organizations,” and they insist they need to “take America back.” The ability to keep a population in this state of tension — engaged in an apocalyptic struggle between absolute good and its opposite — is critical to the movement’s power.
All three mechanisms were on display during the attempted coup, which erupted in violence on January 6. On the matter of information flows, there was no shortage of publicly available evidence on the question of the integrity of the 2020 election. There was no factual support for the fraudulent claims that were repeatedly promoted by Mr. Trump and used as the pretext for his attempted coup. There are of course many sources of disinformation, and a number have become the focus of commentators: social media in general, Fox News, Breitbart News Network, and too many others to count. All played significant roles, no doubt. But it is clear that disinformation about the 2020 election was promoted by many Christian nationalist leaders and organizations, and it had a lasting impact among the rank and file. Within the Republican base, survey data shows that white evangelicals are the most likely cohort to believe in Mr. Trump’s election lies…
The leadership of the Christian nationalist movement conveys messaging to their followers through a wide range of means. Among the most important is the targeting and exploitation of the nation’s conservative houses of worship. The faith communities may be fragmented in a variety of denominations and theologies, but movement leaders have had considerable success in uniting them around their political vision and mobilizing them to get out the vote for their chosen candidates.
Leaders of the movement know that members of the clergy can drive votes. They also understand that if you can get congregants to vote on a small handful of issues, you can control their vote. And so they draw pastors into conservative networks focused on political engagement and offer them sophisticated tools that they can use to deliver the “correct” messages about the issues that they wish to emphasize in election cycles.
It is fair to say that the coup attempt started with the actions of Mr. Trump, who very few people identify directly with the “family values” that Christian nationalists frequently claim to support. But this misses the point about the way this kind of movement operates. Once the movement laid the basic groundwork for an antidemocratic politics, others in Mr. Trump’s position could have done what he did. The movement threw its support behind Mr. Trump at a critical moment, delivering to him the Republican Party’s most reliable slice of electoral votes. He in turn gave the movement everything he had promised them: power and political access, access to public money, policies favorable to their agenda, and above all the appointment of hard-right judges.
At the 2021 Road to Majority conference, a gathering of religious right activists, strategists, and political leaders, Senator Lindsey Graham said, “Bottom line is President Trump delivered, don’t you think?”…
I continue from the next section that deals with the actions of the Christian Nationalists after President Biden won the election.
As the previous section shows, there is a substantial structural network in place that allows a few leaders at the top to push Christian nationalist disinformation and motivate a massive cadre of followers.
Christian nationalists engaged this network to win the election. This was electoral politics, but it was sold to the masses as spiritual warfare. Almost immediately after the polls closed on Election Day, that machinery changed gears to stoke outrage and fear, exhort action, and work to give Trump a second term as president, no matter what the voters wanted…
During the lead up to January 6, Christian Nationalists took a major leadership role in organizing large demonstrations that served as dry runs for that fateful coup attempt.
Lance Wallnau, the father of American Dominionism, also frame the fight to overturn the election as a spiritual war. “Fighting with Trump is fighting with God,” he declared.5 This warfare rhetoric was tinged with violence — stochastic terrorism — that increased leading up to January 6…
The first was the Million MAGA March on November 14, 2020.
One of the first post-election rallies in Washington, D.C., took place on November 14 in Freedom Plaza. It was typical of the pre-January 6 rallies, with many of the same players and speakers. It opened with a prayer infused with Christian nationalism that set the tone for everything that happened later…
The Proud Boys attended the rally and knelt in prayer. The Proud Boys are a neo-fascist, white supremacist group whose founder, Gavin McInnes, “calls himself a ‘Western chauvinist,’ espousing the idea that Western civilization, which he associates with ‘Judeo-Christian values,’ is superior to all others.”
There were many prayers that day and even into the night as violence broke out. Representative-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who also promotes Christian nationalism, urged them to march to the Supreme Court, just as Trump urged them to march on the Capitol on January 6.11 They marched — they called it the “Million MAGA March” — down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Supreme Court for more speeches.
They marched with crosses, images of the Virgin Mary, “Jesus is my Savior, Trump is my President” flags,”“An Appeal to Heaven” flags, and a red flag that proclaimed “JESUS IS LORD.” An RV bedecked in Trump paraphernalia declared, “PRAY FOR 45.” At the Supreme Court, they erected a massive white Christian cross. They carried yellow “Jesus Saves” signs and handwritten signs that said, “Jesus Saves, Trump Leads,” “Thank God for Trump,” “Jesus is King, Trump is president,” and “Ex: 28 vs. 11-19 [sic] It’s been done. My feet are on the ROCK,” which can be seen as someone preaches over a loudspeaker that “in the end, God has already won
the victory.” One woman in a QAnon T-shirt carried two signs “WE LOVE TRUMP” and “WE LOVE AMERICA, GOD & BABIES.” Another protester held two signs on a pole; the top said, “Isaiah 45” (alluding to Trump as King Cyrus), and the bottom, “True Believer in Christ 4 Trump.” He also carried the “Proud American Christian” flag featuring a red, white, and blue ichthys, which is an image of a fish used as a symbol of Christianity, sometimes called a “Jesus fish.”
One Trump supporter warned that day: “[C]areful what you wish for, because a wounded bear is a lot more dangerous than a bear that’s not wounded.” As night fell on November 14, violence erupted in D.C.
The violence we saw on November 14 was not the last time an event of this nature took such a turn — the mobs also turned violent at events on December 12 and January 6. The threat of violence was clear in the weeks before the attack on our Capitol.29 The rallies, the marching to the Capitol, the violence: Dry runs like this are typical of terrorist attacks.
The next rehearsal for January 6 was the Let the Church ROAR event of December 12. It was similar to the previous rally but with much more Christian or biblical imagery from the account of the Israelites marching around Jericho. The Baptist Joint Commission report noted:
Jericho March organized several events leading up to January 6. Throughout December, it had people marching around state capitols blowing shofars. On December 12, less than four weeks before the insurrection, Jericho March organized a “prayer rally” on the National Mall. They named the event “Let the Church ROAR.”
Partnering with Jericho March on “Let the Church ROAR” were Stop the Steal (Ali Alexander’s organization, which he said was inspired by Roger Stone) and Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagles (Ed Martin’s group). In the press release for the event, Weaver, Grossu, Alexander, and Martin praised God and preached Christian nationalism. Martin said, “Our founder, the late Phyllis Schlafly, taught us to build bridges of faith, policy, and politics to keep America great and to always fight for God, country, and the family. Our groups are in this fight to save the Republic from all the forces that seek to destroy it and to restore America to the vision of our Founding Fathers.”
One video ad for the march made the violent undertones clear. It featured crowds chanting “fight for Trump” and multiple speakers talking about losing the nation, losing freedom, the last stand, and “fighting” to prevent that: “we will stand up and fight! … we’re going to protect this president … this is our fight, this is for our freedom.” The ad drew a clear line between Jericho March’s Let
the Church ROAR event on December 12 and the Million MAGA March on November 14, showing those crowds and saying it was the “biggest rally….
Jericho March accustomed people to marching on the halls of power, just as they did on November 14 and as they would on January 6. In another promotional video for “Let the Church ROAR,” Grossu explained, “For the march, we are going to simultaneously go around the U.S. Capitol, the Supreme Court, and Department of Justice, after we do that … we will gather onto the National Mall to hear some wonderful talks and prayers by faith leaders, political leaders, and also be led in praise and worship … .” The biblical allusion made violence the implicit goal of the march. In the Bible, Joshua’s army marched around Jericho for several days; the insurrectionists marched in multiple locations across the span of several weeks. Both culminated in violence.
“Let the Church ROAR” was held on the National Mall a few blocks from the Capitol and was basically another dry run for January 6. The crowd waved signs and flags that were seen at the Million MAGA March on November 14 and everywhere on January 6, including the “An Appeal to Heaven” flag and the yellow “Jesus Saves” sign. The crowd chanted “U-S-A.” Nearly every speaker invoked the genocide at Jericho in adoring terms or prayed to Jesus. “One nation under God,” was perhaps the most common refrain. One sang “Ave Maria.” Another sang “God Bless America.” They played Christian rock tunes, like “Chainbreaker,” in between the various speakers (and had a worship concert before the rally began). At the December 12 “Let the Church ROAR” event hosted by the Jericho March, the crowd waved yellow “Jesus Saves” signs as a band led a singalong of the Battle Hymn of the Republic while the livestream displayed the lyrics for all to join; on January 6, the attackers would sing the battle hymn in the Rotunda of the Capitol.
Over the coming weeks the Christian Nationalists supporting the violent overthrow of the government and Constitution to keep Trump in power grew more intense and indicative of the violence of January 6. The Baptist General Commission report goes into far more detail than I will do today. The report is detailed and it describes the violent machinations of Christian Nationalists on January 6, which I noticed and wrote about that day. However, I will add one more section about how deep Christian Nationalism motivated the participants on January 6:
The Rev. Kevin Jessip made the Christian nationalism explicit. “Some have said this is not a Christian nation. I’m telling you this is a Judeo-Christian nation. … Today, I call this the warrior mandate, a battle cry, a call to arms.” And then, almost as an afterthought, he qualified the belligerence with “in the spiritual realm.”55 He explained that the “battle cry” is a “mobilization of God’s men made holy by the blood of Jesus Christ and empowered by the gift of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This battle cry is a Christian call to all Christian men … as we prepare for a strategic gathering of men in this hour to dispel the Kingdom of Darkness.” This was a sermon of Christian conquest framed with military terminology: warrior, battle cry, mobilization, secret weapon, enlistment, strategic, prisoners of war, glory, deployed in hostile territory under enemy occupation, commissioned as special forces, stationed, final mission to ending this high treason,
search and rescue team. And if the allusions weren’t clear enough, Jessip explained, “We are, without question, men born for war. We are fully equipped as warriors, with battle armor directed and suited for our assignment … to restore the Eden Mandate of occupation and expansion of the Glory of God, filling the earth.” He wanted an “Army of the Lord” and preached unadulterated Christian nationalism and a clear call to arms. Jessip himself had organized “The Return: National and Global Day of Prayer and Repentance” on September 26, in Washington, D.C., and he viewed the Jericho March event as the “culmination” of that work.
But to view this as a completely Evangelical led movement need to realize that there are many other Roman Catholic Christian Nationalists who don’t care about the promise of the Declaration, the pluralism specifically intended by Founders, which protected religious minorities which at that time included Catholics who faced often violent persecution. Most American Catholics including Cardinals, Archbishops, and Bishops don’t understand this because of the prominent position the Roman Catholic Church holds in our society. One has to remember the historic role of the Roman Catholic Church as the State Church of many nations, especially in Europe and South America and its role in barbaric wars, persecutions of non-believers, and even aid to Nazi War criminals.
Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò preached that fighting for Trump was a holy crusade with “the lies and deceptions of the children of darkness” on one side and, on the other, “the silent army of the children of Light, the humble ranks who overthrow evil by invoking God, the praying army that walks around the walls of lies and betrayal in order to bring them down.” He added, “We fight the battles of the Lord with faith and courage, carrying the Ark of the Covenant in our hearts, remaining faithful to the teachings of the Gospel of Our Lord!” After preaching about the “deep state” and converting every public official, Viganò invoked Christian nationalism: “Be proud, as Christians and as patriots, to be able to give witness today to your faith in God and your love for the United States of America, for its Constitution, and for its president, Donald J. Trump.” An Italian citizen, Viganò repeatedly talked of “our nation” and “our beloved nation,” and ended with
a prayer that concluded, “… granting victory to those who served under thy holy banner, Amen. God bless our president. God bless the United States of America. One nation under God.”
During the assault the amount of Christian symbols, flags, songs, and prayers was overwhelming to me as I watched it in real time, but they were intermixed with the Confederate Battle Flag, Nazi symbols and imagery. The author of the section on Christian Nationalism during the attack goes into the sickening detail of all of those things, so I will only quote the end of that chapter:
An NPR journalist who is an expert in American extremist groups was struck by the diversity of the extremism that day:
Am I going to see an Oath Keeper? OK, there’s an Oath Keeper. Am I going to see the Three Percent logo? Definitely saw some of them there. Qanon, huge presence at this one. I saw neo-Confederates in the crowd, all sorts of white supremacist and neo- Nazi insignia, too. And all of the strands of American extremism were there in the same crowd. And what’s wilder is that they were in the same crowd with, you know, a grandmother from Arizona, you know, who fervently believes in her heart that the election was stolen and that her vote didn’t matter.
Yes, the groups were diverse. But it was the Christian nationalism that united them that day.
When writing this report and the epilogue of my book,I spoke with Luke Mogelson, the New Yorker journalist who filmed the shocking video of the attack from inside the Capitol. “The Christianity was one of the surprises to me in covering this stuff, and it has been hugely underestimated,” he said. “That Christian nationalism you talk about is the driving force and also the unifying force of these disparate players. It’s really Christianity that ties it all together.”
Despite their failure to keep Trump in power, Christian Nationalists have not given up, still promote the big lie of the stolen election, and labeling their opponents as Godless Communists and Socialists, and they remain committed to violence and every manner of activity contrary to the Gospel. Their warlike words and sermons have increased since January 6. This is most in evidence in Texas where the Republican Party of the State referred to Joe Biden to be an illegitimate President, and to urge a vote on secession in 2023.
Such talk in the light of a failed coup attempt is nothing more than sedition. But since the Texas Republicans are dominated by Christian Nationalists I expect nothing better. However, there are many Evangelicals who have the condemned Christian Nationalism that played such a large part in the insurrection, while others including Franklin Graham and Robert Jeffress try to deflect blame on people who were not even there.
Christian Nationalists often refer to Trump as a deliverer like the Persian King Cyrus, who ended the Babylonian captivity and allowed Jews to return to Jerusalem. It is a false analogy. Instead, Trump was a modern day Constantine who made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. As the legendary Southern Baptist pastor of First Baptist church, Dallas and President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary said:
Constantine, the Emperor, saw something in the religion of Christ’s people which awakened his interest, and now we see him uniting religion to the state and marching up the marble steps of the Emperor’s palace, with the church robed in purple. Thus and there was begun the most baneful misalliance that ever fettered and cursed a suffering world… When … Constantine crowned the union of church and state, the church was stamped with the spirit of the Caesars.
So don’t expect the violence and threats to end. Instead, expect them to increase, and expect violence, killings, and even mass murder committed by true believers in a lost but unending war in which they like so many others before them is justified because they believe that ”God is with them.” As Eric Hoffer wrote:
A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.
That my friend defines the Christian Nationalist.